How big is the room in your head?
Immediately to my right, through the window, the Jeep, top and windshield both down, and doorless, backed into the driveway, ready for an Irish exit. Flag pole with Old Glory on top of the Bastard Flag’s upper fly. Charles Street immediate in front, and then the Jailhouse Inn diagonally across, on the caddy-corner of Marlborough Street.
Stand up desk, which I built myself thirty years ago, with a by-now ancient iMac, desk lamp, 60-watt bulb. “Hannibal” the tape dispenser, in the shape of an elephant, and Mary Karl’s “Exemplary • Caring • Professional • Role Model” silver bowl, containing “Smart Pills,” Forever Stars & Stripes stamps, dental floss, Valor, Virtue, Vision wax seal, Zippo lighter, two papers clips, thirty-five cents, and a black fountain pen. iPhone, daily diary, notebook.
White sectional IKEA couch and lobster pot coffee table that used to belong to my Uncle Joe, the funniest guy I ever knew. Driftwood log end table, found by my son, Neuman, and me on Pigeon Island in Norwalk and hauled all the way back to the mainland on our tiny daysailer. White tiger iris, framed Newport burgee, Dunlap Broadside (Declaration of Independence) in the place of honor on the front wall, and Breezin’ Up, by Winslow Homer tucked away in a corner by the door to the dining room. And, as Van Gogh said, that is all.
Not much to fill the simple, hard-chined, almost empty space, except the morning sunlight, like a god welcoming into my thoughts. How far does our psychological space extend outward? And upward. About as far as it extends inward would be my guess. Is your room you, in all your tidbits and topsy-turviness? Or is it a show-offy, imagined, hoped-for you, full of wonderful tactile subtleties and priceless pregnancies–an intriguing, alluring display of monk, mystic, and midnight rambler that you dream of being?
What about the other senses, ones that can make our world as big as a mile in all directions? I mean sound, to start: a fire engine siren, the foghorn on Rose Island Lighthouse, seagulls screeching on the roofline of St. Paul’s Church, looking like an infinite even number series on a line. Or its Sunday morning call to prayer bell, at five minutes to ten? The rooftop air conditioning unit next door. The doppler effect of a hooooOOOOOnnnnnking Tercel, with beige seats and Massachusetts plates.
These sounds are also part of my room, filling the chaotic and crowded unseen space, never visualizable or painted, even by a genius like Vincent, but demarking time and day and hour, irrevocable. Same with smells, familiar, distant and immediate like invisible tasty stuffing: a tiger iris in bursting bloom, lifting the air up and shoving itself into it, bristling with whiskers and water ice. The barbecue next door, hurrying the hot dogs along, the cooked meat and mustard much anticipated, and the children’s shouted joy just after. The tugging of a Cessna 172 overhead, the rhythmical ripple and flip-flap of the banner: “Your Wife Is Hot! Silvan Pools. T. (401) 572-7090.” The shadow buzzes briefly across the armoire. I didn’t even see it.
Thoughts fill my head’s whole volume, and the room too–none particularly big or glaring, mostly a tumbling somersault of quiet shouts seeking elegant, tolerable solutions–wretched sorrows and imagined triumphs too. What am I hoping for? The moon on a stick, maybe. Or reason, the anti-hell, and with it wisdom, where there are no more monsters.
I’ve already told you about my quality time with Orestes and the justifiable morality of his matricide as Aeschylus saw it, and the judgement of Athena and the Furies that the bonds of matrimony are more sacred than those of murder, even by one’s own children. Chilling, and relevant. I would have to, on the whole, agree with this forgivable matricide, but it still bowls loud strikes inside my skull. If we must suffer through to the heaven at the end, as he suggests, then I’m once again in hell: this time it’s because of Euripedes’ Medea. Man, it’s such an intolerable, unbearable tragedy that I have just one question–are you evil enough for the truth?
The mantle of the gas fireplace, immaculate and photograph-less, with the vintage bevelled mirror above reflecting the writing on the “Wall of Knowledge” to starboard–a chalkboard of a Pledge of Success, right-angled longitude, latitude, Indian Ocean-globed and ghostly hellos: “Ashley was here,” “Good morning, bestie!” The fire’s never been lit; it might not even work. The pine planks are wide, warped, and waxy; the floor undulates and slants slightly down towards the north east. Wall sconces replaced by flanking self-portraits of my children–little whisps of high school souls with blank stares–youths on the brink, full of magnificent vagueness and glorious indefiniteness as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote. They have kingdoms waiting for them.
But the studio is cool and gray today, frothed with confusion, a fine tangle of grim emotions. The ceiling feels lower; a screw to my chair popped off and now it’s listing. I’ve just finished Medea and I’m struggling with a Hamletesque sense of outrage–that evil fiend should’ve been drawn and quartered and worse for killing her innocent children. I look out on the moody harbor to clear my head and feel oceans away from my soul. How could Medea get away with this reprehensible revenge–the gods shouldn’t have showered her with an almost ra… HEY, OLD’S COOL!
It’s Cricket, swinging around the loading zone sign post in front of the studio–4:30am-11am in red Helvetica under a tow truck icon. He’s a fidgety speed freak, constantly clicking his teeth like, well, Jiminy, and he asks me if I’ve got a quarter. A quarter? Yes, he says, he wants to buy the linguini carbonara at the Brick Alley Pub and it’s $8.49. He’s not kidding. I tell him I haven’t seen a quarter since the McCoys urged sloopy to hang on. Schloopy who? Never mind Cricket, you’d be way better off with the small pepperoni pizza from Nicholas’s, and I jump back into the “…ravishing glee and chariot ride up to the gates of Mount Olympus” sentence I was thinking about. He tangles and untangles himself all the way down the street.
After helping him find the Golden Fleece, and saving his life, and betraying her family by killing her brother in the bargain, Medea married Jason (of the Argonauts) and they had, depending on the source, many children, but at least two sons. After ten years of marriage Jason monkey-branched from Medea to Creusa, the Corinthian King Creon’s daughter, for self-aggrandizement and naked political gain. In her satanic arrogance, Medea, enraged, poisons Creusa, Creon, and Jason, and then kills her own two sons in cold blood with long thrusts of the sword. She flees Corinth on a winged chariot with the help of the gods, and eventually marries King Aegeus of Athens.
It’s a ghastly story, open to tons of interpretations, and because of the tragic poets desire for the marvelous, countless varied and inconsistent accounts endure. Obviously it’s so deliciously awful, desperately felt, and devilish enough for everyone to love and everyone to hate–the loathing is endless.
Here’s my heartfelt take: this timeless epic, just like The Oresteia, once again confirms the unshakeable faith and absolute primacy the gods have placed on the marital bond. When Jason breaks his oath to Medea, who had suffered so much for his love, sacrificed so many for his love, he, they seem to be saying, deserved the ruination and death of everything and everyone around him.
Under the murmur of the air conditioner and the tinkle of small-shouldered rain on the cracked window pane, glimpsed through the broken Venetian blinds’s diastema, I see that there’s “a time and place for us,/death, and deceit, and revenge,/wait for us, silently, somewhere.” Euripides probably got the lessons learned right, in the end, but I won’t be worrrying about a Stendhalian case of the vapors this time around, at least not because of the overwhelming beauty of his prose or the morality of the tale. I read somewhere once “The father protects his children from the mother” and it’s nowhere truer than here.